Gillard vows 'Yes we will'

2010-08-16 10:18

Brisbane - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday made a Barack Obama-style "Yes we will" pledge to transform the country's healthcare and workforce ahead of knife-edge weekend elections.

Welsh-born Gillard, the country's first woman leader, talked up a planned broadband network and mocked opposition leader Tony Abbott's new initiative against illegal immigrants at an austere Labor Party "launch" in Brisbane.

"Yes we will move forward with confidence and optimism," said the "humble" Gillard, speaking without notes, at the climax of a low-key, 40-minute speech focusing on health and education.

"Yes we will keep our economy growing stronger day by day. Yes we will offer people the benefits and dignity of work. Yes we will transform our education system so every child gets the benefit of a great education."

The latest Newspoll gave the red-headed former lawyer a four-point lead ahead of Saturday's election as she strives to overcome voter disquiet over her June party coup against elected leader Kevin Rudd.

Wearing a simple black suit, Gillard, 48, stressed Labor's economic record in avoiding a recession during the financial crisis as her party seeks to avoid becoming the first one-term government since World War II.

"We emerged from this downturn stronger than the rest of the world," she said. "That's a fantastic opportunity but to seize this opportunity we've got to have strong management, we've got to have proper plans for the future and I have them."

Great achievements

The former education minister, whose parents emigrated in the 1960s and were sitting in the front row, praised Rudd's "great achievements" before quickly moving on to the importance of schooling, jobs and the "power of technology".

She attacked the conservative Abbott's economic plans and his new promise to personally advise naval commanders on whether to turn back boats carrying hundreds of Afghans and Sri Lankans seeking asylum to the country's north.

"What Mr Abbott wants that commander to do is take their eyes off the safety of the crew... (and) go inside and give him a call. That's Mr Abbott's plans to stop the boats," she said, raising laughs in the modest auditorium.

"And then presumably from the safety of Kirribilli (the prime ministerial residence on Sydney Harbour) as he watches luxury yachts go by, Mr Abbott is going to provide some advice to that commander about how to stop the boats.

"Friends, this is a nonsense and every Australian will see through it I'm sure."

Gillard said a $43bn plan to wire 93% of homes with high-speed broadband would vastly improve lives, and vowed internet medical consultations for Outback residents by next year.

She pledged good education for all and better training, as well as to ease cost-of-living pressures which have made Australians among the world's hardest workers, eroding its famed quality of life.

"It can be tough... setting the alarm clock early, getting the kids out to school," Gillard said, returning to a well-worn campaign theme.

Strong challenge

But the prime minister made scant mention of climate change or Australia's downtrodden Aborigines, two major themes of Rudd's 2007 election win.

Analysts have decried a lacklustre campaign by both Labor and the Coalition, focusing on small-scale pledges and policy minutiae, despite the fascinating backdrop of Rudd's spectacular ousting just seven weeks ago.

The unmarried, openly atheist and childless Gillard is pitted against Abbott, a colourful, pro-family religious conservative, who has steered clear of the gaffes which have studded his career, to mount a strong challenge.

While Gillard held the key event in resource-rich Queensland, Rudd's home state and a major electoral battleground, Abbott was touring marginal seats in western Sydney.

"A government which wastes money cannot be a good economic manager," he said. "A government which clobbers our mining industry with a great big tax doesn't know how to manage our economy."

A swing of just 2.3% would drive Labor from power less than three years after Rudd ended conservative John Howard's 11-year reign.